Hunterian exhibition explores Gaelic identities

GLASGOW, UK - August 2016: Ancient skeletons found in diverse locations across the UK will go no show at the Hunterian Art Gallery in Glasgow, revealing untold stories that have long been hidden beneath the ground. The exhibition, a collaboration between the Wellcome Trust and the Museum of London, will give visitors insight into the lives of individuals, including fractures and trauma, multiple myeloma – cancer, the effects of syphilis, rickets or arthritis, and tooth decay. Pictured a Neolithic individual from Tiree, Inner Hebrides, from The Hunterian collections, whose distinctive sternum suggests a childhood vitamin D deficiency. (Photograph: MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY)

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A new exhibition opening at The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, in October will consider what Gaelic identity means in 21st century Scotland.

Scheduled to coincide with the 2019 Royal National Mòd and the UNESCO ‘International Year of Indigenous Languages’, GUGA: Exploring Gaelic Identities presents objects, books and manuscripts associated with Gaelic language and culture from the collections of The Hunterian and University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections.

Gaelic was once spoken throughout almost the whole of Scotland but today is only sustained as a community language in parts of the Western Isles. However, a large portion of current Gaelic speakers live outside the Gàidhealtachd (the Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Islands) with nearly 10,000 in Glasgow. Many are migrants or the descendants of migrants from traditionally Gaelic-speaking areas, but a rapidly growing number are new speakers.

Spanning four rooms in the Hunterian Art Gallery, GUGA examines longstanding representations of the ‘indigenous’ culture of the Gàidhealtachd, and questions what Gaelic identity means today – to the native speaker, the new speaker, or the non-speaker.

The exhibition features both Gaelic and English texts and uses historical objects to investigate how living languages and the societies in which they are spoken, written and read, reflect both the past and the present. Must see items include one of the oldest known Highland ‘Targes’, a Neolithic skeleton from Tiree and some of the earliest Gaelic printed books.

It also features slideshow of images by award winning photographer Laetitia Vancon from her project At the end of the day, a photo documentary of young people living in the Outer Hebrides.

Hunterian Deputy Director and exhibition curator Mungo Campbell said: ‘The Hunterian and the University of Glasgow are mindful of our presence in a city that is home to one of the largest concentrations of Gaelic speakers in the world, including an increasing number of new Gaelic speakers. The Hunterian’s collections reflect the strong historic connections between the University, the people of the Gàidhealtachd and its culture. This exhibition presents a unique opportunity for visitors to consider how historic perceptions of this culture have been formed and sustained, and to ask what this culture, and its language, means in contemporary Scotland.’

GUGA aims to encourage questions from visitors about how Gaelic culture is viewed in 21st century Scotland and they will have the opportunity to offer their own reflections within the exhibition itself.

GUGA: Exploring Gaelic Identities is at the Hunterian Art Gallery from now until 2 February 2020. Admission is free.

Highland targe (shield), circa 1623. No_B41gaelic01

A Neolithic female human skeleton found at Balevullin, Tiree. Photograph: Maverick Photo Agency Ltd. No_B41gaelic02

A silver ‘Churchwarden’ pipe, circa 18th century. No_B41gaelic03